I attended Thomas Tallis between 1973 and 1980 with my twin brother Simon.
It could be a rough environment for someone with a posh accent who liked learning, but there were good times. Highlights included a fantastic library, drama productions and some great teachers. I once visited a really, really posh private boarding school with a dedicated arts building and remember thinking, "well the art at Thomas Tallis was just as good as that".
There were lots of hilarious times in class. I remember once my brother told a joke in maths that people didn't get and he explained it was "a J O K X squared", which made the class fall about (lots of maths equations with kxsquared).
One time a lorry full of oranges spilled its load on the Rochester Road outside school. The school filled up with the smell of oranges and there was peel all over the carpets. The Deputy Head came over the tannoy saying "I know they literally fell off the back of a lorry, but..."
The school uniform at the beginning was made of awful navy crimplene with a tunic and trousers - I was literally the only girl in the school whose parents bought it, so embarrassing. I was made to do a fashion show for new parents. The picture below is the closest thing I could find.
This picture made me laugh and the pinafore is about right, although Thomas Tallis paired it with lovely crimplene trousers for girls. Most girls wore skirts and tops and there were fantastic 70s fashion trends with very long and very short shirts, and tops with enormous polo necks.
Drama was a big part of school life at Tallis and we wrote all our own productions. I vividly recall writing about a miners' strike in the Minotaur's labyrinth (very topical in the 1970s) and designing the poster and program for our play about the Children's Crusade.
We once had a bit of snooty substitute teacher for music. He played us an avant garde piece of music and asked us to write a poem inspired by it. It made me think of a planet waking up with dramatic earthquakes, lava floes, volcanoes and storms, then subsiding again. The teacher could not believe the quality of our poetry and the sophistication of our vocabulary and use of language and actually apologised to the class about his low expectations. I hope we inspired him to take up state school teaching.
The school was built of lots of grey concrete and lacked plants, apart from the beautiful trees full of blossom at the front - their branches poked in through the classroom windows and girls put flowers in their hair. As a keen gardener I decided to address the grim situation with some daring guerilla gardening. (Apparently guerilla gardening was invented in 1970s California, so this was on trend). The school caretaker couldn't understand why flowers kept popping up in the empty concrete planters and between the paving stones!
The sixth form had a dedicated floor at the top of the school with its own kitchen and fridge. I took advantage of this to make ice lollies to sell to fellow students in the summer - very popular!
With the great teaching I got As in all my O, A and S levels except German, (ironic as I now live in German-speaking Basel, Switzerland), and was lucky enough to win an ILEA Inner London Scheme place at Magdalen College Oxford to read Chemistry, where I got a First and a PhD. After one year I was awarded a prestigious "Demyship" scholarship, so despite getting in on a special ILEA scheme and not doing the entrance exam, I definitely deserved to be there. I hope schemes like the ILEA once still exist - no way I could have done the exams as I was studying Nuffield science A levels.
I've had a really great career in the pharma and biotech industry and am very proud of having made a real difference for some nasty diseases.
Nothing in life has been anything like as challenging as what I faced at school, so it gave me a lot of resilience for which I'm really grateful.
-- Sarah Holland